The Internet is a dangerous place so you might find yourself on the receiving end of a brute force attack. WordPress’ popularity virtually guarantees that will happen to your (WordPress) site, sooner or later.
My sites get hit at least once a week and I have clients who are constantly under attack.
Once you are getting brute forced, you could easily block the offender by IP address, with iptables, like this
iptables -A INPUT -s 188.8.131.52 -j DROP
That will work, however doing this manually every time gets quite tricky, next to impossible.
A good solution is to automate this, using fail2ban (there are other options of course, but outside of the scope of this article).
fail2ban monitors your log files and when it matches certain rules (like too many login attempts, scanning directories etc.) it can take action by creating firewall rules (like the one above). That will block the offending IP from accessing your server in any way (ftp, http, ssh, etc.).
If you don’t already have fail2ban installed, you can do it easily from command line:
sudo apt-get install fail2ban
or if you are using CentOS (or similar flavour) , first add the repo
rpm -Uvh http://dl.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/6/x86_64/epel-release-6-8.noarch.rpm
yum install fail2ban
This is not a complete guide on installing fail2ban, but rather configuring a few rules specifically to protect a WordPress site.
Resources abound on the topic of installing fail2ban. Also, after setting up, make sure your install monitors your logs as they can vary depending on setup (in jail.local, in your rule files [filter.d directory]).
I run servers with individual logs per domain, shared logs and so on, so your mileage may vary. If you need some help setting it up, drop me a line.
Creating a fail2ban rule
After we have (if not already) installed fail2ban, we need to create rules (it comes with default ones too).
The rules are made up of regular expressions, called failregex that match the logs we are monitoring.
Most of the attempts to brute force go to the wp-login page, so we are protecting this first.
The rule I have for this is saved in the file (on my setup) /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/wp-login.conf
# WP brute force attacks filter [Definition] failregex = ^<HOST> .* "POST .*wp-login.php ignoreregex =
This matches POST requests to wp-login.php
If there are 5 or more matches (my jail.local config is 5, defaults are found in jail.conf), it automatically blocks the offending IP.
Protecting xmlrpc.php attempts
This file is another source of trouble. Same as the wp-login rule, I create a new rule under /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/wp-xmlrpc.conf
# WP brute force attacks filter [Definition] failregex = ^<HOST> .* "POST .*xmlrpc.php ignoreregex =
As you can see, both rules are quite basic but do the job.
We created the rules, but we haven’t tested them. So let’s test before we enable. Testing uses the following syntax:
fail2ban-regex <logfile> <fail2ban rule to test>
fail2ban-regex /var/log/apache2/access.log /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/wp-login.conf
If there are any matches in the logfile, the test should output some matches and IP addresses.
We can clearly see the bots have been quite busy hammering this server. All quiet after adding the rule.
90146 hit(s): Day/MONTH/Year:Hour:Minute:Second Success, the total number of match is 6532
I always test the rules before enabling them. Having rules that don’t work is not very useful.
After creating and testing these new rules, we need to enforce them.
Edit /etc/fail2ban/jail.local (if file doesn’t exist, create it. Do not do your local changes in jail.conf) and add the following:
[wp-login] enabled = true port = http,https action = iptables-multiport[name=WP, port=http, protocol=tcp] filter = wp-login logpath = /var/log/apache2/access.log maxretry = 5 [wp-xmlrpc] enabled = true port = http,https action = iptables-multiport[name=WP-xmlrpc, port=http, protocol=tcp] filter = wp-xmlrpc logpath = /var/log/apache2/access.log maxretry = 5 bantime=3600
What we are doing: enabling rules, specifying which logs to check and what action to take. If we do not specify things like bantime,
that setting will default to what ever your default it. As you can see, for one I did specify, for the other one, I left to default.
Ok then, so we have created and enabled our rules so now we need to restart fail2ban (fingers crossed).
service fail2ban restart
Then let’s check it is now runing
service fail2ban status
I tend to do this, just to double check there wasn’t a silent fail start.
Checking rules work
With the fail2ban rule now active, login attempts to wp-login.php should now get blocked in the iptables firewall. Same for attempts
You can check the list of blocked ip adresses in iptables with this command:
What if fail2ban doesn’t start
Sometimes it happens that we misconfigured something. We will see no error logs when starting (and failing) so we need to diagnose:
fail2ban-client -x start
This will show us logs of what’s happening. Also we can use this to deal with any warnings, though not necessary.
Hopefully this has given you some extra information on dealing with all the nasty people out there wanting your site logins…